The Season of Color


It is the season of color. Like the last hurrah of a fireworks display when all the stops are pulled and the crowd watches with faces a-gasp. During this time of year, it seems like the blue tones in the sky are just so much more beautiful. It's a special blue. A childhood blue. The color of a toy box or an animal figure floating above the cradle on a mobile as it turns slowly above a baby's head. To me, it brings great comfort and peace. Maybe, in some way, this color reminds me of that safe and secure time in a cradle, many years ago.

When you combine this blue with the spectacular yellows, oranges, and reds of the trees during this period, it is just something you have to stop and view. Kind of like that fireworks show. You have to stop and stare to take it all in. Yellow and blue are opposites or complements in the color spectrum. When they both are together on a sunny day, it is as beautiful as seeing a meteor dash through the sky on a clear and frosty winter night. Or the oranges of a canyon reflected in a pool of still water below them. It usually lasts for a few weeks and then the trees are bare and the moment becomes but a memory till next year.

It is also a season of motion. Animals are preparing for the winter ahead. Birds are moving from north to south and squirrels are storing away seeds and nuts for retrieval during the cold and gray days of winter. I watch with a smile out our front window; a gray squirrel grabs an acorn from beneath our Laurel Oak and runs across the street to the neighbor's yard. The squirrel moves its small hands with feverish speed, tucking the nut into the damp soil, burying it with dirt and tamping it down like a baker's hands preparing fresh dough. Then, it scampers back across the street and repeats the process again and again. I'm glad it is a quiet Saturday morning and the traffic is light along our road. Hopefully, the squirrel will eventually be satisfied with its dispersal of nuts and the bounty will be found in the months ahead. If the squirrel is crushed by a car or simply forgets, my neighbors will see young Laurel Oaks appearing through their manicured lawn in the spring.

During the past week, I have been late every day returning to the office after my lunch hour. It is because of the birds. Not much of an excuse, but to someone who has grown up enthralled with watching them, it works for me. This past week has been one of migration in our area of Augusta, particularly that of American Robins and Red-Winged Blackbirds. Like cars rushing into a take-out window at a fast-food restaurant, birds fill my backyard with movement. Black and orange darts of color pass by my kitchen window. The two birdbaths are lined from side to side with birds dipping low to sip and then raising their heads upward to swallow. It's an exciting thing to watch - these transients on their way southward. South to warmer weather and a break until spring.

I open the back door slowly, just to listen briefly to their calls. The familiar sound of the Red-Winged Blackbird takes me back to my childhood and the swamps that surrounded our home in Wisconsin. Every spring those fertile areas would be alive with the sounds of male Red-Winged Blackbirds claiming their turf. Singing that familiar o-ka-leeee while clinging to a cattail or long reed in the rich greens of swamp vegetation. I'd usually be sitting nearby on a bank, sketchbook in hand as I attempted to draw the birds in their habitat. Sometimes, I'd even wade into the muck surrounding that vegetation; the deep, dark and rich decaying matter that felt like quicksand as your legs slipped deeper and deeper into its grasp. The lure of a large bullfrog would keep you moving forward, even though at some point, the muck would be as high as your waist. The frog would watch us as we slowly approached, trying not to fall or slip in the quagmire of slime and ooze. Then, as we leaned forward to make the catch, moving ever so slowly to put our hands around the beautiful, green creature, he'd submerge with a chirp and reappear about five feet further into the swamp. Egging us to come deeper and deeper into his world. Like a game of tag, we could not win, at some point, we'd give up and slowly wade back to shore, legs covered in leeches but excited that we had seen such a big frog! Those flashbacks occur commonly when I watch and listen to nature. But, the bird migration, in particular, takes me back to those days in Waterville, Wisconsin. The marshes - the smells and the sounds all make me feel wonderful inside again.

In between the more common birds of these flocks will be the extras. Birds that hitched a ride with the flock even though they are not necessarily the same species. Yesterday, I noticed bright orange amongst the blacks and browns of the male and female blackbirds. It was a bird I haven't spotted in years! A Baltimore Oriole! A beautiful bird with yellowish-orange covering most of its body. Smaller than the blackbirds, but oh, so much more colorful. On Wednesday, I saw a Cedar Waxwing; crested like a Cardinal, but smaller with a much more varied palette of color. Large, but gentle layers of yellow underneath by the legs with a bright red square on the wings. They remind of the markings you'd see on a fighter plane and they stand out so beautifully. These "hitchhikers" remind me of AM radio skip. Those clear nights when the big channels would shut down after dark, leaving open wavelengths for channels from another place to edge in. Sometimes for just a few minutes, we'd hear New York or even Miami call letters. But, only for a few minutes...kind of like seeing the Cedar Waxwing or Baltimore Oriole. They were not native to this area and only passing through.

I know, that in a few weeks the oranges, reds, and yellows of fall will be browns on the ground. The deep blues of the sky will turn a more muted gray and the birds who passed through will be gone for yet another season. It's like nature takes the art on display down to the storeroom of the gallery for winter. The beautiful paintings are covered with dark gray cloth and protected for the future. Until the spring, when, with exuberance, the covering will be lifted, the birds will sing in excitement, the patrons will be overjoyed and the colors will flourish again.

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